何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)


学术界的杂交与自立门户(原文及译文) 精选

已有 7710 次阅读 2008-7-28 21:50 |系统分类:海外观察

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 Cross pollination vs. Establishing a brand name and empire in Academia

 In most top US universities there is a tradition against hiring her own students upon graduation. The theory being that inbreeding is not good for the bloodline of an institution. (As it is well known in biological world). Graduates should have experience to absorb foreign culture and thinking before returning to his Alma Malta, if ever. He will then be far better equipped to contribute to the well being of the organization. Similarly, an institution should hire new fresh blood from outside unburdened by tradition and established way of thinking in order to foster new ventures and breakthroughs.

But in China, the practice seems to be the exact opposite. Professors tend to keep his best students around (留好学生在身边). In fact the idea is to establish an empire or brand name (建立门户) and be the founder (开山鼻祖) surrounded by loyal disciples. This is the tradition of martial arts movies and books ( 武侠小说内的少林及武当派). But even in that genre, we find the true hero/heroine often have to break traditions and achieve greatness by chance discovery of secret techniques and instructions outside of his discipline. The traditionalists no matter how skilled in their art play supporting characters in the novel.

On the other hand, the current practice in Chinese academia is not without its rationale. Close knit members of a group tend to think alike and work to protect each other against outsiders. There is great comfort in feeling secure, understood, and supported by others near you. The Chinese family tradition further reinforces this group adhesion. There are advantages of being member of an established group in publications and securing grants under the Chinese system. Individuals and organizations that go against this practice benefits no one but hurt themselves. Thus, the practice is self-reinforcing and has its own logic for existence. In the parlance of game theory, this is the prisoner dilemma situation all over again.

It seems to me at least reasonable to question that might this practice of refusing to cross pollinate a contributory reason for the lack of innovation ( 创新) in Chinese academia? Might it be worthwhile for the Ministry of Education to decree that no university should be allow to hire his own graduate within two years of graduation?

(NOTE: Lest someone familiar with my own career for the last half century accuse me of hypocrisy, let me be the first to point out Harvard hired me immediately upon graduation in 1961 and the fact that my first Ph.D., from Tsinghua was hired immediately by the department after graduation in 2006. Both appointments go against what I am saying above but which I can honestly say are exceptions to the rule and are fully justified by facts and circumstances. I make no apologies)

(Notes added 7/30/08) 陈学雷先生的博文
This is the way Harvard departments make professorial appointments. The head of the department after consulting with members of the department appoints a committee to search for candidates in a particular area or subject. Thus, the department not individual faculty member determines the composition and direction of the organization. This committee searches far and wide for quality candidates and presents a short list and a report to the department for final voting. The department’s choice is then presented to the general university where another committee appointed by the President sits in judgment.  At Harvard this university committee consisting of members outside the department and the university chaired by the President holds enormous power. The department must defend and justify her choice to this ad hoc committee which then makes a recommendation to the president who alone makes a final decision. Thus, it is enormously difficult for a single member to build an empire with many tenured professors who are your own students. A professor with large grant money may hire research associates and post doctoral fellows using his own grant money. But these are temporary annual appointments and carry no long term future in the university. A truly ambitious scholar will use such term appointment to gain experience and as a stepping stone, but s/he will not be content to remain in such positions.
This is this way that Harvard and other top research universities prevent 近亲繁殖 and promote 杂交. In 1961 at the dawn of the modern control and system era, I had essentially no advisors at Harvard for my PhD thesis. The person who signed off on my thesis was an instructor. But the dean of the engineering school and one other professor sense the importance and emergence of this area and decided to hire me and the person who signed my thesis simultaneously as assistant professors. The record of the past 45 years vindicated their exceptional choice of the RULE. Subsequently I myself did not propose the tenure appointment of any of my own students for the next 45 years. My only colleague was recruited from outside at my suggestion This is not because there were no excellent candidates among my own students but because of my respect for the tradition. In fact, many of my academically oriented students all attained distinction on their own outside away from me.  
As for the hiring my first PhD graduate at Tsinghua by the department, I justify the appointment in my own mind this way.  The student received essentially a Harvard education. From 2001-2006 I taught him in course at Tsinghua based on my Harvard teachings, was in weekly if not daily e-mail communication with him about his research, co-authored papers and my last book with him, had him visiting me at Harvard for extended period of time, and arranged to have him visiting and give talks at various US institutions of higher learning. Thus Tsinghua was essentially hiring a 海龟 Harvard Ph.D. This was exactly the purpose and responsibility of my Tsinghua job – to infuse new ideas and worldwide practice into her graduate program. (http://www.sciencenet.cn/blog/user_content.aspx?id=8897).

Thus to reiterate, 杂交 is a tradition but not a iron clad rule never to be broken. The principle is to promote new and independent thinking by young scholars.

One more note: In order to have the position of “second-in-command 第二把手” for the administration of large research projects, research associates or senior research associates can be appointed for indefinite duration with the understanding so long as the project funding lasts. If funding disappears, such positions have one year termination notice. They also carry less responsibility and authority in academic affairs. There are capable but less ambitious persons who are happy in such positions, called “off-ladder appointments” which have limited future for advancement but can be very comfortable under the wings of powerful professors.















另注:为了管理大型研究项目,可以指定一位研究助理或高级研究助理担任二把手,只要项目持续获得资助就行。他们的合同期不定,如果资助终止了,二把手会提前一年得到合同终止的通知。这些助理在学术事件中责任少,权利小。他们有能力,但野心不大,乐于担当这样的职位。这样的职位可以称为“金字塔之外的职位”,发展的前景有限,但是在大牌教授的羽翼下会过得很舒服。(科学网 梅进译 何姣校)


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